Dear men: your health is the best gift!

Jun/15/2024 / by Sweta Vikram
Father’s Day
Image credits: pixabay

It’s a joke in our family that when my husband and I ever see a holistic health practitioner, his appointment takes 10 minutes and mine runs for the allocated time of 60-90 minutes. His response includes YES, NO, and SURE while I go into the depth of what I dreamt about the night before and my emotions in the morning. Even at the doctor’s, he rarely asks questions. In fact, a large majority of the arguments at home are around him delaying his doctor’s visit until something becomes critical. 

It’s the same story in most homes. In a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, only 35% of men reported they would seek help from a mental health professional, compared to 58% of women. According to a survey by the American Institute of Stress, men are more likely to report feeling overwhelmed at work and are less likely to take time off to care for their mental health.

We have all read about men dying younger than women, and they tend to have more chronic illnesses than the fairer sex. But did you know that when it comes to health, males are the weaker sex? Period! According to Harvard Health, the gap depends on a complex mix of biological, social, and behavioral factors.[1]

As an Ayurvedic Doctor, I have observed that more women than men reach out to me with health concerns and questions about preventative care. Women also seem more open to conversations around physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. 

Be it erectile dysfunction or diabetes or heart disease or excessive alcohol use or sleep disorders or even eczema, men like to ignore it and tough-it-out unless they are at a breaking point. They tend to be more stoic about even their mental health, and recklessness (think substance abuse or immaturity behind the wheels or even other dangerous activities) is often a coping mechanism for them.

A friend in his 40s brags about how he doesn’t get his annual, physical checkup done. It’s not about him forgetting to see the doctor or being busy; his carelessness is a representation of his manhood. A friend, who was diagnosed with a lifestyle-induced disease when he passed out alone in the hotel room overseas and medics had to be rushed to his side, will make excuses for his numerous cheat-meals in the week. 

A friend’s brother is allergic to shellfish to the extent where his throat starts to close, and he goes into anaphylactic shock. But he refuses to give up seafood. “In the battle between lobsters and me, I am winning,” he praises his own absurdity. A colleague’s brother kept ignoring the dietary recommendations from his doctor and the cautionary-note about getting his cholesterol levels as well as triglyceride tested. You know what happened? At age 52, he died of a heart attack in the elevator all alone. A friend’s father, who is morbidly obese and diabetic, needs a daily dose of cardio like brisk walking or Sun Salutations. When his family doctor warned him about the perils of sneaking laddoos to the terrace and bowing down to Sun God (His version of exercise) instead of moving his body, he bragged how ghee flows in his veins and will never betray his arteries. 

“Nothing will happen to me. I am fine.” These two sentences have caused so much grief to families, wives, children, mothers, siblings, and friends. The men in our lives are important to us. So, men’s health is not just a man’s issue

I remember telling a male friend to apply sunscreen before stepping out of the house, and he looked offended. Somehow … my suggestion around sun safety, which has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with preventing cancer, made him feel emasculated. He told me that moisturizers and sunscreens are for women. And that the skin patch (That set the warning alarm in my head) was sunburn from playing golf. 

Research tells us that there are several factors contributing to men’s reluctance to seek help for physical or mental health challenges. Cultural conditioning and family values influence their decision. Then there is the societal expectations and notions of toxic masculinity. We can’t ignore the stigma around mental health stigma and a lack of awareness about available resources. 

June is Men’s Health Month and today is Father’s Day. Can the men in our lives just promise to take better care of themselves? I think we would all like our fathers, husbands, brothers, partners, friends etc. etc. to be hale and healthy more than anything else in the world. Sure, communities and clinics run events and raise awareness of health challenges plaguing men’s lives. But can we also ask and encourage the men in our lives to show due diligence and go for regular health checkups instead of skipping the doctor? 

Don’t be arrogant about outward fitness and chiseled abs only. Your diet, lifestyle (movement and sleep), stress levels, genetics, ethnicity, geographic location … they all impact health and longevity.

“A man’s health can be judged by which he takes two at a time – pills or stairs.” ~ Joan Welsh

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